At the WDC, we have a unique foundation training program that serves as the starting point for all of our dogs, regardless of which one of our training programs they will be entering.

As soon as the puppies arrive, they are introduced to tug toys. We play lots of fun games with them to build their excitement for tugging.

Our goal is to build their prey and hunt drives, which are useful as we teach future skills.

We build their prey drive by moving the toy around and allowing them to chase and catch the toy, which simulates their natural predatory behaviors. We build their hunt drive by playing fun games of “hide and seek” which end in the dog finding their toy or their person and getting to play.

As their drives develop, we begin the introductory phase of Search & Rescue training. While the puppy is held by a handler, they watch as a person runs around a corner while holding their toy. The dog is then released to go find the person and play tug with their favorite toy. At this point, the dog is primarily using its eyesight to make the find.

The next step is to have a person run away from the puppy and hide behind a desk, or in a similar hiding space. This lets the dog use its sight, while they also begin to use their sense of smell to find the person and get the play reward. This changes however, when we graduate to the next step where we do not allow the dog to see the person hide. This makes them rely on their hunt drive and keen sense of smell to find the hider and their toy.

Once the dog is excelling at this level, we increase the difficulty again by adding the distraction of crowds of people. On the rubble pile, they must focus on finding the hidden person while tuning out distractions including spectators and loud noises. We intentionally have crowds of people nearby so that the dog can learn to work through these types of distractions which will be common in the environments they will work in.

The searches on the rubble pile get more complex over time and the dogs also learn to search in buildings, a process we start teaching in an abandoned building in our complex. We’ll talk more about building searches at a later date, so stay tuned for the next installation in our Search & Rescue dog series!

Click HERE to read our blog about how Dr. Otto was inspired to spend her career helping Search & Rescue dogs.